The History Dish: Chestnut Ice Cream

Right: Rachel Wharton and I chowed down on some melty, chestnut ice cream.

Coupla weeks ago, I was featured on New York 1 making some chestnut ice cream for Edible Manhattan editor Rachel Wharton.

The idea for the recipe came from Society as I have Found It, a book written by Ward McAllister in the 1890s.  He was a New Yorker, and a well-known socialite.  The book is about his fabulous life, and he dishes out all kinds of advice, like how to throw the best dinner party:

“In planning a dinner, the question is not to whom you owe dinners, but who is most desirable. The success of the dinner depends as much upon the company as the cook. Discordant elements — people invited alphabetically or to pay off debts — are fatal.

The next step is an interview with your chef, if you have one… whom you must arouse to fever heat by working on his ambition and vanity. You must impress upon him that this particular dinner will give him fame and lead to fortune. “

Sound advice, no?  The full chapter is here.

I’d like to throw a dinner party based on his suggested menu; it’s perfect for the winter and classically late 19th-century: it consists of Turtle Soup, Terrapin, Ham Mousse, Roast Turkey, Sweetbreads, Pate in Aspic and Canvasback Ducks.   The dessert, Nesselrode Pudding, is an ice cream made with chestnut puree.

The recipe requires a lot of steps, but every one is worth it.  The result is an incredibly creamy, flavorful ice cream.

Nesselrode Pudding (Chestnut Ice Cream)
Adapted from The American Heritage Cookbook and
Miss Corson’s Pratical American Cookery by Juliet Corson,  1886.

1 pint (2 cups) half and half
4 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups sugar
20 chestnuts, cooked and unshelled*
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup Maraschino Liquor, rum, or pineapple juice
1/2 cup currents
1/2 cup raisins
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

*You can find chestnuts canned, perhaps in the import aisle of your grocery store.  I found a bag of “snacking” chestnuts that were roasted, unshelled and vacuum sealed.  Perfect.

1. Soak raisins and currents in a bowl with the Maraschino.  Set aside.

2. Beat egg yolks with 1/2 cup sugar.  Scald the half and half, then add it SLOWLY to the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly.  Pour into a pan and cook on over a very low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Remove from heat.

3. Meanwhile, make the chestnut puree: add chestnuts, 1/2 cup sugar, water, and vanilla to a food processor.  Puree until smooth, then add to the custard.

4. Add custard mixture to the bowl of an ice cream mixture.  Allow to freeze to a soft-serve consistency.

5. Meanwhile, beat heavy cream and remaining 1/2 cup sugar with an electric mixer until stiff.  When custard has frozen soft, fold in whipped cream and fruit.

6. Pack into an ice cream mold  and place in the freezer overnight, or until frozen hard.


I let the ice cream set in the freezer overnight; while shooting for NY1, I busted it out all professional like “Oh, and we have one that’s already done!”  It was now time to unmold it: I dipped the outside of the mould into hot water until the outer layer of ice cream melted, then gently turned it upside down on a decorative platter. Simple, right?

Not for me. While decanting my ice cream, I managed to fling it across the table, where it collapsed into a sad heap.  See it all happen here.

Rachel and I managed to scoop the ice cream off of the table and make it presentable, although it totally looked like a brain.  Then we gave it the old taste test: although I was repulsed by the texture of the raisins, Rachel and I both agreed this ice cream was delicious.  On camera, we took dainty spoonfuls.  Off camera, we were shoveling it into our mouth.  The ice cream was so creamy and perfectly sweet; the chestnut flavor was interesting, delicious, and subtle.

Rachel suggested leaving out the fruit in the next batch and molding the ice cream in individual dishes with a single, candied chestnut to garnish the top.  I agree.  Hanging out with Rachel is always a treat.

4 thoughts on “The History Dish: Chestnut Ice Cream

  1. Now that I’ve done Nesselrode a few times, I can share a few things. Soak the raisins a day or so in the booze or cook gently in sugar syrup… both methods will keep them from turing into little rocks. As for getting the ice cream out of the mold… I had the same problem when I ran the mold under warm water… I read somewhere warm towel and hands (that get very cold) do the trick…. it comes out but stays pretty. Looks like you had a great time!!! Mark Twain liked Nesselrode pudding!

  2. I don’t blame Mark Twain, it was tasty!

    I’m not a fan of raisins in anything, so I think that was my problem with it. I did find other recipes with different fruit, like candied citron or pineapple. But I think I would like it without; the chestnut flavors were my favorite.

    I thought you would like this one, Deana. I remembered you mentioned that you had made Nesselrode before!

  3. It’s funny, the raisins. They popped up before but somehow in the Gilded Age they were just everywhere, pointlessly, gratuitously. Maybe because they’d always been a little bit of a treat, and now they were relatively cheap? They’d seem to ruin an otherwise brilliant ice cream. But then… it was the “gilded” age after all. Subtlety and simplicity were not the strong suit. I’ll have to try this one way or another.

  4. Ugh. Agreed. They’re in so much pre-1850s food, then they seem to come back at the end of the century. I know there are people out there who like raisins in things, but i’m not one of them. I don’t understand ruining the creamy ice cream texture with them…even a candied pineapple in this, to me, seems pointless. But that’s why we’re here: to draw inspiration from the past and improve upon it.

Comments are closed.